Monday, 20 June 2016

On walking the path less travelled

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do." 
― Rumi
I've never properly told anyone the reasons precipitating my decision to pursue nursing in college. Always felt it would be awkward talking about myself for so long in any introductory conversation so I would often cut to the chase and tell everyone just one or two. I've been questioned a lot about my educational choices since secondary school, but while I never made it to top schools, I came to love wherever I was because I had space to grow, space to fall and enough space in my life to be filled with people I now hold close to me.

So... "why nursing?"

In all honesty, it was never one of my ambition. I had multiple interests a mere few years ago, some of which still remain - crime and investigation, journalism, history, maybe archaeology and healthcare. I remember harbouring intentions to become a curator in a museum, or be a forensic scientist, or a travel journalist/columnist but I realised that such interests were difficult to pursue in Singapore and eventually dropped these aspirations out of practicality.

Healthcare related topics however, became an enduring personal interest for me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading up on diseases, viruses, human anatomy and physiology, cancer and stem cells - I willingly searched these up when I came across them. It naturally made studying biology a lot easier as well. Maybe it is a blessing that healthcare is currently undergoing major changes and as more hospitals rise in the heartlands, a considerable amount of manpower is going to be needed to sustain its operations. Because I started to seriously consider a future in it. I strongly believed in finding meaning in something I was going to do for a very long time.

But back then prestige seemed to weigh heavily into every important decision you made.

The idea of becoming a nurse did not hold the same prestige as say, becoming a doctor, a physiotherapist or a speech therapist or a dietitian and arguably, it still doesn't have that prestige attached to it.  A very impressionable me, was admittedly very caught up in the ideals of how I would like people to regard me and an image of what I could be. But life takes you to places, and I'm glad that it took me somewhere in a time where I was making a crucial decision.

After A levels I started working in a polyclinic and realised how multi-faceted nursing really was. From health assessments, performing immunisations, complicated dressings, diabetic counselling to traiging and giving emergency treatments, I had no idea nurses held so much autonomy over so many aspects of care. I observed, did my research and read testimonies of nurses and students alike. My entire outlook began to shift then, because I realised that as an allied health professional (if I ever became one) I would specialise in one aspect of care, but in the case of nurses, they practically handled everything else. They are all-encompassing individuals; vigilantes, an advocate for their patients, educators, a friend, a support system, clinicians.

Perhaps it isn't a profession that has the prestige, but as I would later learn, it definitely has a great honour.

Around the same period of time, my grandma had her second fall and was admitted to the hospital again. They also discovered that she developed a moderately sized sacral bedsore, which is usually a result of prolonged pressure on your bony parts - she hadn't moved for days. Nobody had attended to her incontinence as well so the added moisture merely contributed to its worsening.

This was the time where my relatives started to fall out with one another, because nobody had the capacity to take care of her and they were pushing the responsibility around. It was upsetting. I accompanied my mom to the hospital everyday to visit her and I took the opportunity to observe the nurses working in the hospital setting and got to learn a really simplified version of how to dress a wound. It was intriguing and exciting watching them hustle around the ward handling the multitude of tasks on their plates. I started to appreciate how basic care was something of second nature to them and on top of that, they knew their patients and even their family members very well. They were the ones who spend the most time with the ones who are in their time of need and I admired that.

This incident was what sealed the deal for me. I felt that whatever events that precipitated were really unnecessary and that well, if there was anyone in our immediate family who could care and take care of everyone else, that could be me! Of the things that I consider the most important to me, heart, mind and purpose, nursing easily fulfilled everything. We would acquire medical knowledge, be running around, unbounded by a desk, making a difference - doing small things with great love. I finally made my decision.


People do not comprehend why I would subject myself to such a "dirty" job, doing seemingly menial and mindless tasks. What people don't know is that these tasks often help nurses to identify the first signs of any thing that might potentially be wrong with a patient. Yes we change diapers, we clean butts a lot, but that's not just all there is to that. Is there constipation? Bleeding? It could indicate a patient's tolerance for their diets, fluid intake or hydration. It could help pick up clues to potential colorectal or gastrointestinal problems. Doctors rely a lot on the nurses for these signs and symptoms.

We watch their diets, keep track of the number of times they go to the toilet, track their progress with ambulating themselves, feed them, deal with medical instruments and troubleshoot them. In the mean time we have to accommodate nasty or self-entitled people who make countless demands, or care for the elderly with dementia or patients with personality disorders no matter how much they try to push you to your limits.

Serving medications may look like a simple task, but it takes a lot of studying and numerous checks in order to ensure that you don't mix up the 5 to 10 medications of 5 to 6 patients. We must be aware of the diagnosis of the patients and their medical history, the pharmacology of the medications to ensure that the wrong medications were not accidentally ordered, or that the medication is contraindicated in the patient. We keep a look out for potential side-effects and are there to advise them and break down what the medications are for so that they feel that they have a better sense of control over their conditions.

And there are many other things that I have yet to learn and experience, but I could say that nursing is definitely not what many people would have imagined or witnessed on the surface. I used to get upset when people tell me that it was a "waste" to do nursing, or when others would ask, "nursing need to study one meh?" or "why didn't you just go to poly?" I know there was no ill intent or anything like that and I actually did anticipate these questions, but over time you just learn to revel and take pride in what you are doing and forget about the naysayers. It'll be difficult challenging the mainstream beliefs of people with regards to nursing, but I'm glad I'm a part of this challenge now. And as I'm writing this my heart brims with so much satisfaction and fulfillment, looking back on how this short year of a journey has brought me so far from the start.

I'm where it feels right to be in.

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